Australian Antarctic Program scientists on board RV Investigator have made the first ever deployment of a novel camera system designed to provide an eye-to-eye view of krill swimming in the Southern Ocean.

The ‘swarm study system’, developed at the Australian Antarctic Division, uses a series of stereoscopic cameras within a metal frame that floats in krill swarms, 30-60 metres below the surface.

The first pictures provide a tantalising glimpse of life in a krill swarm, but more footage is expected over coming days as the system continues to be deployed.

Krill biologist Mr Rob King said the camera system was dropped into a small krill swarm identified by the ship’s acoustic echosounders – which send pings of sound out into the water to ‘see’ what’s around.

The ship then left the site to remove any influence of the ship on the krills’ behaviour. The team later returned to retrieve the cameras and download the video footage.

“It was fascinating to see that the krill largely appeared to be unperturbed by the white camera frame, but we recorded a couple of instances where an individual sensed the frame and demonstrated an escape tail flick response,” Mr King said.

“What really delighted us was to capture the individual in stereoscopic vision re-engaging with the swarm, which will allow us to analyse the rules for swarm integration in 3D.

“This is something we’ve been working on in the Australian Antarctic Division’s marine research aquarium, and this is the first time we’ve been able to take our laboratory studies in this field back into the ocean.

“These ocean deployments will give us an understanding of how krill orientate themselves in swarms and how they form swarms, which is key to better predicting the biomass of krill – or how much krill there are – in a study region.”

The research is part of a two month voyage to measure the biomass of krill off the coast of Mawson in East Antarctica. The work will provide information to help manage any re-emerging krill fishery in the region.

This voyage is supported by the Australian Antarctic Division, Pew, Australian Antarctic Program Partnership and the Antarctic Science Foundation, and by a grant of sea time on RV Investigator from the CSIRO Marine National Facility.

Read more about the swarm study system and the voyage in our new interactive feature ‘Krill Matters’.